Pay Attention To Remble When He Speaks
Drakeo The Ruler was murdered last month — ambushed and stabbed in the neck while backstage at a Los Angeles music festival. He was 28. I haven’t written anything about Drakeo after his death because it’s too depressing. Every time a young rap titan is cut down in his prime — something that’s happened all too often lately, and all too often throughout history — the details are always uniquely crushing and horrifying. It’s the same reason that I haven’t written about Young Dolph since he was killed, shot outside the bakery where he was buying cookies for his mother. If you focus too much on stories like these, you might feel yourself starting to spin out.
The story of Drakeo’s murder hit me harder than most. Part of that is the context. Drakeo had been free from jail for almost exactly a year. This man fought the system, and he gave up years of his life as prosecutors filed charge after spurious charge. When he finally got out, he cranked out records with blinding speed, but he got precious little time to enjoy the rap-star life. Drakeo was also a friend of a friend, or at least a friend of a good acquaintance. Jeff Weiss, the great Los Angeles writer, tirelessly chronicled Drakeo’s endless trip through a Kafka-esque legal system, and he and Drakeo became close in the process. When Drakeo was murdered, Jeff was there.
A couple of weeks ago, Jeff published a long, moving piece on Drakeo’s life and death, and the details in that story are almost too much for me. For instance: Drakeo moved into a rented mansion last year, and he had time to sit in his hot tub exactly once, on his birthday. Drakeo changed the sound of underground rap music in California, and that’s a legacy. But a legacy isn’t enough to save your life.
Thanks to the intertwined perils of the penal system and the gang world, it seems terribly dangerous to be a rap star in California — just as, I’m sure, it’s terribly dangerous to be a rap star almost anywhere. I was thinking about this when reading August Brown’s recent Los Angeles Times profile of Remble, the 21-year-old San Pedro rapper who spent the past year in Drakeo’s orbit and who clearly carries Drakeo’s influence. In the story, Brown finds Remble recording at a friend’s house, but by request, Brown never gives any details on where that house might be. Remble seems to move around often, taking care to keep his circle tight because he knows that he’s a potential target. It doesn’t seem like a fun way to live, and yet Remble makes music that’s never anything less than fun.
Remble has been making music for a few years, but his career really started to take shape a year ago, when Drakeo jumped on his track “Ruth’s Chris Freestyle.” In interviews, Remble has always named Drakeo as one of his key influences, alongside fellow LA heroes Kendrick Lamar and Dom Kennedy. Drakeo brought Remble into his Stinc Team fold, but the two rappers weren’t exactly joined at the hip. In that LA Times piece, Remble mentions more than once that he wishes he’d gotten closer to Drakeo. Drakeo’s influence is mostly evident in the conversational weirdness of Remble’s flow, which has grown into its own peculiar thing.
Remble’s big selling point is his delivery, which is absolutely unique. He raps with crisp, clear elocution, like he’s delivering a lecture or recording an audiobook. Each word is discrete. Punchlines arrive in diagrammable sentences. The beats are spacious, propulsive, and distinctly LA. Remble is apparently recording with Mustard now, which is perfect, since his best songs already have beats that sound like Mustard productions. This leaves plenty of room for his meticulous flows. There’s something wonderfully condescending about the way Remble speaks. It’s like he’s painstakingly enunciating every syllable because he knows that you’re too stupid to get his point if he doesn’t spell it out.
There are precedents for this kind of thing. The first time I ever heard E-40 rap, for instance, I thought he was doing a cartoonish white-person impression, and there’s some of that in Remble. Like Valee before him, Remble is also deliberate to the point of fussiness. But Remble’s approach is his own, and it has the effect of transforming gun-talk boasts into something more playful. Remble songs don’t often have choruses, but his lines are so prim and specific that they get stuck in my head anyway. “Pay attention to me when I speak.” “I just took your life, and as you know, it’s unrefundable.” “Do the job right, or you are surely going federal.”
In anyone else’s hands, Remble’s approach would come off as a gimmick. With Remble, that never happens. For him, it’s a style — a new twist on a West Coast sound that’s developed in different directions over decades. That style has become more and more pronounced over the past year, but it seems like Remble simply arrived at it as the correct way to make music. Here’s how he explains it in a Complex interview: “If it doesn’t come out exactly how I’m hearing it in my head, then I’ve got to keep making sure it sounds perfect. When you’re recording a song, you’ve got a choice to not mess up a word. I just don’t stop until I make sure it sounds like it was delivered properly.” I love that. Remble always delivers it properly.
Remble’s mixtape It’s Remble came out back in July, so it’s not exactly new. Remble hasn’t shown up on a new track since November, when he was on DaBoii’s “It Don’t Matter,” and he hasn’t come out with a song of his own since the Lil Yachty collab “Rocc Climbing” came out back in September. (Yachty is continuing with his micro-Drake campaign, collaborating with any bubbling underground regional rapper whose style might fit his own. I like that he’s always willing to get obliterated by a less-famous rapper.) I’m not thinking about Remble this week because he has new music. I’m thinking about him because I’m thinking about Drakeo. There’s no silver lining to Drakeo’s death, but I do love to see one of his stylistic disciples taking his innovations and turning them into new innovations. That’s beautiful. It’s one of the ways that we can live on after we die.
1. Key Glock – “Proud”
Key Glock has never been a vulnerable, emotional rapper, and he’s not going to start now. In the first song where he really addresses the loss of his cousin and close collaborator Young Dolph, Glock talks that shit, and he talks it hard. I think Dolph would appreciate that.
2. RayTrey – “Johnny”
Philadelphia’s RayTrey is new to me, but now I know that he can rap about getting a blowjob in a stolen car during a high-speed chase, and he can make it sound like a song about getting a blowjob in a stolen car during a high-speed chase. Really, that’s all I need to know.
3. 2 Chainz – “Pop Music” (Feat. Moneybagg Yo & BeatKing)
The best strip-club songs are the ones that sound sketchy and celebratory at the same time. This qualifies.
4. Xavier Wulf & Quintin Lamb – “Pressure Gauge”
I’m a simple man. You put some ghostly singsong raps over some eerie horror-movie chimes and some sputtering 808s, and I’m happy.
5. Lil Gray – “Missile”
There are moments on this song when Lil Gray and the sample sound like they’re singing a duet, and those moments make me feel like I’m floating. (Shout out to the Passion Of The Weiss on the RayTrey track and this one.)